This is the third letter we have received from Tyrrell Brooks (Capt. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) – see September 28th & October 29th for his previous ones. With some nine years’ experience in the Army, he has got to know “Tommy” pretty well.
A strange mixture of sentiment and pathos is Private Thomas Atkins. A splendid grouser when in clover, when really up against it he faces with equanimity the longest of days and most trying trench work.
In letter writing he uses the most pious and well rounded phrases which would delight the soul of a cleric and give him hope, and afterwards you will hear the same hero expressing to his friends his grievances in language that even a bargee would resent.
The glamour of the battlefield of the last century is conspicuous by its absence in this. The bayoneting of the German is not a daily occurrence, but when the chance comes it is taken and afterwards affords pleasurable thought and scope for writing home – as after all there is little to write about when you live in a trench for four days at a time, having shrapnel for breakfast, high explosive for lunch, and rifle fire when you should be having your evening glass of ale in the canteen.
Perhaps the great thing which buoys up T.A during the weary days in the trenches is “castle building.” By this I mean highly exaggerated thoughts of home, his best girl (they all have them) and of the time and reflected glory, consequent on the defeat of the enemy, that will be his when he gets there. And if he is wounded – well somebody else will take his place and he will become a ‘ERO.
His sense of humour allows us to name the various kind of shells he is daily in contact with. They are “Little Willies,” “Dirty Dicks,” “Black Marias,” and “Jack Johnstons,” according to their size.
Here is a good and true story. Just after Ypres, a troop train full of enthusiasts pulled up opposite a hospital one in a siding. Those in the troop train were longing to perform deeds of valour and longing for blood. Those in the hospital train had already shed much in the lowlands of Flanders. Those in the troop train were hanging out of the windows and trucks joking with each other. Suddenly the hospital train started slowly forward and a troop train enthusiast shouted out “Are we downhearted?” and the chorus answered “No” – but again he shouted “Are we downhearted?” and again the chorus bellowed “No.” This was more than a figure in the hospital train, swathed in bandages, could stand. Propping himself up he retorted “Ain’t you? Well you bloody soon will be!” which said, he returned to a prone position.
Remember Pte Thomas Atkins and the great work he is doing under conditions which are difficult, to put it very mildly, and wish him a speedy return to realize the “castles” that he built in the trenches.”
* * * * * *
Jack Smyth played Juliet in the 1906 production of Romeo and Juliet here at the OPS to good reviews and if this did not necessarily suggest a military future for him, the following year he played a very youthful Macduff in Macbeth and, as the reviewer noted, “looked a sort of Sir Galahad in his armour, but he showed plenty of fire when his opportunity came in the final scenes.”
“The British Tommy is simply magnificent… One in a regiment close to us the other day came up very pale, and saluted, and asked if he could go to the rear. ‘Whatever for?’ said his officer. ‘Well sir, I’ve been ‘it three times’ he said.
Before we came under fire for the first time I asked a sergeant who had been at Mons what it was like. ‘Perfect ‘ell, sir,’ he replied, and he wasn’t far wrong.”